By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

For the next few days ELA is stationed in Oostende, Belgium for the Euroleague Qualifying Round. Check back everyday for notes on the action going on as teams from across Europe fight for that last precious Euroleague spot.

First Game: Strasbourg 82 – VEF Riga 53

Second Game: Asvel Lyon 86 – Oostende 77

Strasbourg’s Veteran Know-How

Strasbourg handily beat VEF Riga 82-53 to kickoff the qualifying tournament. All members of Strasbourg’s 10-man rotation scored, nine of those 10 players had an assist, and they basically ran an offensive clinic all game long.

What was most impressive about Strasbourg is their roster depth and team chemistry mixing well so early in the season.  The continuity on offense was striking, right from the opening tip players were constantly communicating on offense, making crisp cuts, and the ball was being worked all around the half court.  Having a veteran coach and French National Team coach Vincent Collet orchestrating everything probably helped to build the foundation for having such early season continuity.  The Pro A season also kicks off this weekend so French teams could be slightly ahead of the game with their season preperation.

After an injury plagued year last season Ali Traore looked fit and was back to his old high post/low post wizardry.  He has such touch and command of the ball that if there isn’t a shot blocking presence behind him (there wasn’t), he can use his precise footwork and incredible touch on his jump hooks (with either hand by the way) to slice up the opposing post defense. 15 points in 15 minutes and he barely broke a sweat. #AliBack

Oostende’s Beautiful Fast Paced Basketball Goes Down

The second game was the much better of the two games as Asvel Villeurbanne beat the host team Oostende 86-77.  Oostende plays a beautiful brand of fast paced, offensively driven basketball that is a joy to watch. With point guards Dusan Djordejevic and Vladimir Mihailovic plus wings Quentin Serron, Mateusz Ponitka, JP Prince, and Guy Muya Muboyayi, Oostende has a plethora of ball handlers who can start the fast break.  They transition from defense to offense in one quick blur.  Ponitka and Prince are bullets going down the court and also extremely strong finishers who both can really finish high above the rim.

Oostende also has an intruiging young center duo in the bulky, bruising Gregory Echenique and his taller counterpart Jared Berggren. They combined for 21 points, six rebounds, and three blocks in 40 minutes of play.  With such a fast team, Echenique needs to continue to get into better shape to keep up with those wings racing down the court. Berggren does a great job of keeping the ball high and finishing quickly in the paint on offense but he needs to do better rebounding defensively.  In 17 minutes he had zero defensive rebounds.  Both showed flashes of really effectively play and they are both only 1990 born, so it’ll be exciting to watch this youthful post playing combination grow.

The weak spots on Oostende are on defensive and potentially at the stretch four position.  Wes Wilkinson and Pierre Antoine Gillet are basically the only two power forwards on the rosters unless they want to go small.  Both are kind of one-trick players who rely heavily on making outside shots.  Wilkinson is better but if they are both missing it’s a real hole in the rotation.

On defense Oostende just didn’t have the same chemistry they have on offense.  The individual talent is there to a degree but Asvel had open shot after open shot.  And even when they were able to start closing out on shooters, Asvel was in too much of a groove and sank contested jumpers.  And in a close game, Oostende got out-rebounded by 10 and that can often be the difference.

The last note to make on Oostende is the cool mix of countries they have on their roster.  This is a true international team with players from Belgium, United States, Venezuela, Serbia, Poland, Montenegro, and their coach is Croatian.

Edwin Jackson

After seeing Asvel and Strasbourg play yesterday and Gravelines play last weekend, it seems Jackson is the class of Pro A.  There are potentially a couple other players in his category but the quickness he has on drives, feathery touch on his outside jumper, and focused activity he brings on defense combined with his athleticism makes him a premier player in the French League.  He had 20 points, four rebounds, and four assists versus Oostende and that seemed like a relatively easy game for him.  If Asvel can get into the Euroleague, it’ll fun being able to watch him on a weekly basis versus Europe’s best.

Riga Youngsters

Riga has eight players born in the 1990’s, including most notably Jannis Timma (1992) and Anzejs Pasecniks (1995)

Timma is the Grizzlies late second round draft pick who didn’t have a good game at all but there were a lot of things factoring into that, most notably how much worse his team was than his opponents.

Timma is really strong, with wide shoulders and has a great overall build for a wing player.  He’s a smart passer, a strong finisher, his jump shot is solid, and he really moves around the court well.  He’s not that good at creating separation off the bounce but that skill would turn him into a really high level player.  On this young and average Riga team with few good passers and barely any post presence, Timma has a real ceiling on how much more he can develop.  Seems this would be the last year he’d play on this team before moving onto a bigger club.

Timma also is a little bit of a hot-head.  He can get angry quickly and his temper can affect his game.  This can be turned into a positive in a way as he plays with an “edge” sometimes, but when he gets frustrated it shows.

Pasecniks started the game at the four position and played the first few possessions on offense away from the basket on the perimeter.  He showed the ability to make catches out there, participate in dribble hand off plays, and even had one nice off the dribble dive where he cut through two defenders to the basket.  Bamba Fall was playing center, Pasecniks’ more natural position.

But after playing about six minutes in the first quarter, Pasecniks was subbed in for a few seconds in the second quarter where he missed the rebound on a free throw after not boxing his man out.  He was immediately pulled from the game and never returned.  Even as the second half turned into a blowout we didn’t get to see anymore of Riga’s biggest prospect. Come on coach!

Lastly 1998 born Rodions Kurucs played the last four minutes of the blowout loss.  The lanky wing player moved around the court really well and was looking to make plays from the moment he got in.  The jump shot is a work in progress but he showed nice court vision, decent mobility, and is one to keep an eye on.